Australians are renowned for making a mad dash to buy new gadgets. So it's not surprising that new technologies such as wikis and podcasts have made their way into university curriculums.
Griffith University in Queensland, for example, has been using Twitter this semester in first-year journalism classes, with students having to tweet about the challenges of writing news stories.
But according to a Sydney Morning Herald report, not all students are happy using the micro-blogging service. In the report, Griffith journalism lecturer Jacqui Ewart says some students don't know what Twitter is, while others ''thought it was a waste of time''.
And not all students are happy reading books on the Amazon Kindle, which is making its appearance in Australia. In the US, universities have been piloting the Kindle with mixed results.
The Daily Princetonian reports that many of the 50 Princeton students involved in a Kindle pilot don't like the devices.
One student says the Kindle is a ''poor excuse for an academic tool''. The University of Wisconsin at Madison, and Syracuse University in New York, which were both involved in pilot programmes, say they won't buy Amazon Kindles because blind students can't use them.
It's time to take a breather from all the hype surrounding emerging technologies and ask a few questions.Are academics making decisions about using technology based on their stereotypes that all 18-year-olds are tech-obsessed? Do universities ignore whether the technology has educational benefits because they are seduced by new gadgets?
Is technology being used as a gimmick to attract students to subjects?
A three-year project, Educating the Net Gen, conducted by Melbourne, Wollongong and Charles Sturt universities, provides some answers. The project, recently completed, set out to question assumptions about young people's use of technology.
While the researchers found a core group of tech-savvy students, they were by no means the majority. But a really important finding was that even if the ''net generation'' were tech-savvy, they might not want to use wikis and Twitter in their subjects.
''This research also suggests that even though young people's access to and use of computers and some information and communications technologies is high, they don't necessarily want or expect to use these technologies to support some activities, including learning.''
Gregor Kennedy, one of the project's researchers and head of the biomedical multimedia unit at Melbourne University's faculty of medicine, told Third Degree earlier this year that it was dangerous to be seduced by technology.
''The danger is to see that the new technology is the thing that we should be focusing on, (but) really we should be focusing on what it is that makes a quality teaching and learning experience. If the technology can support it, that is fabulous, but if it doesn't support it then maybe we should move on to other areas.''
In the UK, a three-year project, Researchers of Tomorrow, started six months ago to investigate how gen Y students do research for their PhDs. Preliminary results show students born between 1982 and 1994 aren't as obsessed with technology as people think.
''Only a small proportion of respondents in any age group say they use 'emergent technology' (e.g. Web 2.0 applications) in their research, although those that do generally find it valuable,'' the interim report says.
If universities want to introduce emerging technologies in classes, they should make sure there is an educational reason to introduce them.
netgen.unimelb.edu.au (The net generation project includes a handbook, which sets out practice and policy guidelines for using emerging technologies)
Update on waning mystique
Student first preferences for the Victorian College of the Arts, now a faculty of Melbourne University, have dropped. Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre data, which has just been updated for November, shows there are 1366 first preferences to the VCA, compared with 1858 at the same time last year. For the drama course, first preferences have fallen by 63. Could students be worried about changes to the VCA? Has the VCA made it too difficult for students to audition?
The VCA has cut back on the number of cities in which it auditions for its drama course. The drama school has traditionally auditioned in all capital cities, but this year it will do so only in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, according to a SAVE VCA report released in November. The National Institute of Dramatic Art holds auditions in all capital cities, and the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts auditions for its drama course in Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide .-The Age